10 Historical 'Facts' Only a Right-Winger Could Believe
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As you may have noticed by following their writings, conservatives are not sticklers for historical accuracy, especially when they have a point to defend and not a lot of evidence to support it. Get a load, for example, of John Podhoretz explaining how the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani reduced abortions in New York City (though, um, not really) because he cut crime, which is one of "the spiritual causes of abortion."
Yeah, deadline pressure's a bitch. But there are some bizarre notions of American history in which conservatives have become so invested they've adopted them into their worldview. The best-known example is probably Jonah Goldberg's notion of " Liberal Fascism"; nowadays anytime a conservative talks about, say, Woodrow Wilson or Hillary Clinton, you may expect him to mention their resemblance to Benito Mussolini. They don't even have to think about it, even when normal people are gaping at them open-mouthed like audience members at "Springtime for Hitler" -- it's part of the folklore that helps them understand the American experience.
There are plenty of others. I've picked out 10 such ideas that are widespread enough to qualify. (In the nomenclature I have treated "Republican" and "conservative" as synonyms because, come on.)
10. The Robber Barons weren't robbers -- they were capitalist heroes.
The overarching task of the conservative historian is to rehabilitate the image of capitalism, even at its most red-toothed and -clawed. Not a hard job, as both our history and culture ceaselessly celebrate the innovative dynamism of American business.
But one of the rare areas in which history teachers are allowed to criticize unfettered capitalism is the Gilded Age of the "robber barons" -- Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Fisk, et al. These men, many of whom first rose to prominence through unseemly wartime speculation, built enormous fortunes on the exceedingly generous terms of the times, which included bribery, monopolies, and stock manipulation, perverting the alleged power of the free market on their own behalf. They were kind of like the Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers of their day -- except they never got caught.
Most of us still look on this as a shameful thing. But historians of the conservative-libertarian persuasion such as Thomas E. Woods, Lawrence W. Reed, and Thomas J. DiLorenzo (better known now as a neo-Confederate) look at the robber barons' dirty records and ask: So what? J.P. Morgan built a nice library!
They tend to skirt the smelly stuff, and talk instead about how Carnegie's machinations drove down the price of steel -- surely you're not against low prices? And if Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt paid off legislators to acquire land for their railroads, the railroads got built, and that's what counts.
Why do they so eagerly defend the robber barons even at their worst? Maybe because, as economist Brad DeLong has noted, the grotesque inequity in American wealth that characterized their era has only one equivalent in U.S. history -- that of our own time. And if one's business is excusing the perfidy and criminality of today's speculators and swindlers, it is helpful to make heroes of the speculators and swindlers who are their models.
9. Sputnik bankrupted the Soviet Union.
This one comes from the top of the conservative food chain: Sarah Palin. In her Fox News rebuttal to President Obama's recent State of the Union, Palin said that the Russians' "victory in that race to space... incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union."